"It must be so hard for you," that's the phrase I hear the most. It is paired with "to see them get adopted and move on" Or "to review all these animals and see them when they are sick" most often, but once I hear the first part I am already detached from the conversation. I have already removed myself from the back and forth pleasantries and am arguing whether I want to open up about what is genuinely hard for me to do or whether I will flash you a smile and brush of the comment entirely with my usual "No, not really." What I want to truly say, is so much more. Buy, I never find the right way to say it.
It isn't hard for me to watch animals go to new homes. It is undeniably the best part of my job. The mangey dog that grows a full head a hair and finds a home that loves them, the scared kitten who learns to trust and loves playing with her new brother and the random animal pulled from a dumpster that finds a loving place to spend the rest of it's days are the reasons I get up in the morning. What is hard? What is genuinely hard and keeps me up at night? Those animals that aren't adopted.
I run a no-kill shelter. Meaning we do not euthanize for space, adoptable pets are given as long as they need to find a home, unfortunately it is not always a quick process. My heart breaks for these pets. The ones that are too shy around strangers when they come to visit. The dogs that are too old or too big. The cats that prefer to be an only cat, these guys are the hardest part about my job, because they are all wonderful and I love them all.
I love them as if they were my own pets, because in a way they are. I love the cat that we have had for 2 years that still hides under a box or bed when I enter the cat room, but comes out for live once I sit down and stop moving. I love the 13 year old owner surrender who is 60lbs and acts more like a puppy then some of the younger dogs. And yet as much as I love them, I watch them get passed over, time and time again. I watch as the days become weeks, then months, then years and I watch as they get returned from home visits early and I watch as meet and greets end abruptly when they see the pet needs a little more than what they had anticipated. I watch it all from the side lines.
I come in every morning to the same faces. The faces of pets I know are good and that they just haven't found the right home yet. Sometimes I wonder if they will. I wonder if I can find a home for a senior dog before old age catches up with her. I wonder if the shy cats will ever find someone that will give them the time they need to adjust. It keeps me up at night. To me, that is so much harder than anything else.
"It must be so hard for you," I hear it again. The same phrase and I ready that smile I have practiced. "Seeing them leave you after all this time, I bet you are so attached." "No, not at all." This is when I get a confused look. "This is my favorite part. Seeing them off to someone else that will love them."